Doctors are leaving practices, due to dissatisfaction or a desire to make more of an impact

More doctors are choosing careers that don’t involve directly caring for patients. Are they driven by dissatisfaction with practicing medicine in 2018? Or are these doctors motivated by a desire to make a bigger difference, through technology and innovations? We dug into the data to find out what’s behind this trend toward choosing non-clinical jobs, as well as the wide variety of these positions that are available to doctors seeking a change.

Dissatisfied docs are not the whole picture

If you were to scan the headlines, you may not be surprised to learn that more doctors are leaving direct patient care. Burnout is at an all-time high, as is frustration with the demands of clinical practice. But terms like “drop-out docs” don’t tell the whole story.

Doctors who are uncomfortable using EHRs are more likely to reduce hours or leave the profession.

While the Physicians Foundation 2016 Physician Survey revealed that 48 percent of surveyed physicians planned to take steps to limit patient access—an increase from the 2014 survey—a closer look at the data shows it’s not all bad. Yes, some doctors have grown dissatisfied with the current state of medicine and choose to opt out entirely. A new study in Mayo Clinic Proceedings showed that “physicians who are uncomfortable using EHRs are more likely to reduce hours or leave the profession,” reported Medical Economics, especially older doctors nearing retirement anyway.

Of that 48 percent in the Physicians Foundation 2016 Physician Survey cited above, only a little more than 14 percent were retiring; but also grouped into that number were the more than 13 percent who planned to pursue non-clinical jobs within health care. The rest were cutting back on hours, switching to concierge medicine, or otherwise still working with patients but fewer of them.

The booming new field of health informatics

Many of the doctors pursuing non-clinical jobs are Millennials. Whether because they value flexibility and work-life balance, or because they wish to make a greater impact on health care as a whole rather than on individual patients, Millennial doctors are particularly drawn to jobs in digital health and technology.

For a related post, see How to Attract Young Talent in the Era of Drop-Out Docs

But technology-related jobs aren’t limited to younger doctors. The booming field of health informatics offers opportunities for experienced doctors seeking non-clinical roles, as well.

“There are an ever-growing number of career opportunities for those who enjoy working with data, information, and knowledge to improve the health of individuals and the population in the field of biomedical and health informatics,” wrote William Hersh, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Medical Informatics & Clinical Epidemiology at Oregon Health & Science University. “This field develops solutions to improve the health of individuals, the delivery of health care, and advancing of research in health-related areas.” He also noted that there’s a new medical subspecialty for physicians practicing in the field: clinical informatics.

Randa Perkins, M.D., described herself as someone who “fell in love with medicine,” in a video on the website of the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA). But she felt drawn to the field of informatics after observing patients with paper charts “inches thick,” and saw practices relying on cumbersome archives of decades’ worth of patient files.

“Informatics is a crucial catalyst that drives the reaction between the two things that we need: the data and the clinical care.” – Randa Perkins, M.D.

“Knowing that the system was capable of so much more, I felt compelled to try to fight for that better outcome. Informatics helps us make sure that we not only provide good care for the patients in front of us today with having the right data at the right time, but that the data that we collect from that care interaction provides results and research data for the innovations and discoveries of tomorrow,” said Dr. Perkins, Chief Information Officer for the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla.

“To me, informatics is a crucial catalyst that really drives the reaction between the two things that we need: the data and the clinical care.”

A look at non-clinical jobs and how to find them

Informatics isn’t the only field for doctors looking for a change from patient care. “Most non-clinical jobs fall into a few industries that are ready-made for physicians, such as health insurance, pharmaceutical, and regulatory agencies,” according to Medical Economics. MD Mag also lists hospital administrator and health care business analyst among The Best Non-Clinical Jobs for Doctors.

Non-clinical jobs for doctors include advisor to health-tech startups, medical legal consultant, medical director at a life insurance company, and many more.

Our research turned up a wide variety of non-clinical jobs that doctors have filled, including advisor to health-tech startups, consultant for health insurance companies, working for the government as a medical innovation officer, medical legal consultant, medical director at a life insurance company, vice president of a medical education company, and roles within worker’s compensation and benefits management.

Doctors who have made the switch from clinical practice emphasize the importance of networking to find non-clinical jobs—especially networking with entrepreneurs, business people, and others outside of medicine.

To find out more about non-clinical careers, check out NonClinicalDoctors.com, a website launched by Heidi Moawad, M.D., author of Careers Beyond Clinical Medicine, and NonClinicalJobs.com, created by Joseph Kim, M.D. Also, the AMIA offers a listing of medical informatics jobs.

For more articles like this, check out the Work-Life Balance section of our blog archives.